A Big Table: Rose-Hulman’s Approach to Diversity and Inclusion

Monday, February 15, 2021
Image shows a group of NSBE members smiling together outside on campus.

Rose-Hulman’s minority student recruitment has led to greater Black/African American enrollment, while students, faculty and staff are doing their part to ensure the institute remains inclusive and welcoming for everyone.

For many years, Rose-Hulman has worked to increase racial diversity on campus as part of a larger effort to make the institute welcoming for everyone regardless of ethnic background, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or other distinguishing characteristics.

In just the past five years, the number of Black/African American students on campus has nearly doubled, with each of the past four years producing the largest class of Black/African American students in the institute’s history.

More important, however, is the welcoming and inclusive nature of the overall campus community, say diversity advocates at Rose.

“Some colleges just focus on the number [of minority students]. That’s really not how you should do it,” says Jairyq Underwood, president of the campus UNITY chapter and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). “(Colleges) should actually change the atmosphere and focus on making it an inclusive environment for people, and then the numbers will come as a result of that.”

In this regard, students, faculty, and staff say Rose-Hulman is doing well. The Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CFDI), which was launched in 2011, is now prominently located in the Mussallem Union; diverse clubs and organizations are thriving on campus; multicultural education events take place frequently; and President Robert A. Coons has been clear that greater diversity of students, faculty, and staff is an institute goal.

“We believe diversity and inclusion at Rose-Hulman includes being inclusive of different backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, economic status, disabilities, and races,” Coons said recently when introducing a campus program on diversity’s past, present, and potential at Rose. “A top priority for the current Board of Trustees and for my administration is to continue to make Rose-Hulman an even more welcoming and inclusive community.”

After the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota, Coons issued a strongly worded statement in June 2020 decrying “violence against members of the Black community.” He also announced several initiatives and updates to campus diversity and inclusion efforts the following month.

Black/African American students appreciate the institute’s unambiguous support in matters of racial justice, Underwood says.

“As an African American male, I have to worry about a lot of things other people don’t, and it puts my mind a little bit at ease that the university that I chose actually cares and puts thought into how my life is affected and my wellbeing,” the junior biomedical engineering major says.

Chimele Uriri, a senior chemical engineering major and long-time member of NSBE, agrees Rose offers a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. She says one area where she would like to see more growth is to have more Black professors in the faculty, something administrators are also taking steps to address.

“We only have one female, Black professor and it has been that way through my whole four years,” Uriri says. “I think it’s really encouraging for females like me to have Black professors to look up to.”

The institute has put greater focus in its recruitment modeling for underrepresented faculty and staff in recent years, including working with new recruitment platforms and providing bias training for those making hiring decisions, but is also taking a big-picture view in its efforts to increase diversity.

“Part of our larger strategy is to increase interest in STEM fields with groups that historically have not felt that it’s an industry for them,” says Megan Elliott, vice president for human and environmental services. “That’s certainly not true and we want to change that belief.”

To increase the pool of Black and other underrepresented faculty, you need to first reach those prospective students who go on from college to graduate school and then into teaching another generation of students, Elliott says, adding, “I’m excited because Rose is talking about the big picture, instead of just one piece.”

Diversity advocates on campus agree that having ethnically diverse faculty benefits not just diverse students, but white students as well.

“I think for Rose students to be able to see a Black woman engineer and not have their brain go off in a stereotypical direction…that one example will help you interact with employers and coworkers that are not like you,” says mathematics Professor Yosi Shibberu, a former faculty advisor for NSBE.

In terms of Black student recruitment, Dexter Jordan, associate director of admissions and multicultural recruitment, is pleased with what he has witnessed since joining the Department of Admissions in 2007 when about 10 percent of the student population was nonwhite. Thanks to a number of institute-wide diversity initiatives, including growth in international students, it is now about one-third. Black/African American students represented about one in five students in the inaugural Class of 2024 Noblitt Scholars, a program launched in 2020 that is intended to attract the world’s top students representing diverse academic interests and backgrounds.

“We have done a great job making sure that once the students are here, they are comfortable and are accepted totally into the family across the board,” Jordan says.

Shibberu agrees: “Rose is a fantastic environment. In fact, now it’s the quintessential family environment where it’s safe to come here, safer than many campuses actually, because of the atmosphere of acceptance.”

Nick Davis, associate director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CFDI), says Rose-Hulman has embraced a broad approach to diversity encompassing all underrepresented groups and also the entire institute. The CFDI, he says, is expanding its reach into areas of the institute that previously had little or no contact with the center..

“If I could use a visual example, (a few years ago) our table only had a few place settings,” Davis says. “Now we’re at a huge table. There are still some empty chairs, but we are starting to fill them with people. It’s a work in progress, but we’re moving forward together. That’s our mantra and our slogan and we say it to ourselves every single day.”